We've been back to the castle with B.J. Blazkowicz.
The New Order makes way for The Old Blood in the second Wolfenstein title from Machine Games. This latest offering is a standalone expansion which precedes the events of the main game, but this time opts for something a bit more traditional; gone are the retro science-fiction trappings of the last game, replaced by a return to the occult setting that the first-person shooter series is known for.
The Old Blood doesn't need the base game to run, and for the £15 it'll set you back (you can shop around on PC and get it cheaper than that) you get a fairly generous five-six hours of story. It's not as fleshed out as The New Order, but then given the budget pricing this is hardly a surprise. What you get for your money is an eight (and a bit) chapter campaign with big guns and lots of blood-splattered violence, as well as a new score attack mode set within locations plucked from elsewhere in the game.
Like its predecessor, it's a little inconsistent when considered from a tonal perspective (that said, we preferred the story of The New Order). For the first half of the game it's all about stealthing through environments, taking out guards, and then, when the shit hits the fan, killing everyone that crosses your path. The second half of the game descends into zombie shooter territory, and while the pace picks up somewhat, subtly and nuance takes a bullet in the brain.
It's the first half of the game that really shines, and it carries on where The New Order left off: Machine Games' take on Wolfenstein is just as much about stealth as it is about shooting, and the opening four chapters of The Old Blood continue with that mix of sneaky takedowns and brutal firefights. Once again there's officers that need to be quietly taken out so as not to raise an alarm. Get spotted at any point, and subsequently fail to react in time, and you'll have a wave of enemies descend on your position and spam you with bullets (and on the harder difficulties, grenades).
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Once again the AI of your enemies isn't stellar, and they'll happily walk past a recently felled comrade, not even batting an eyelid at the still warm corpse of the soldier they were talking to mere seconds ago. It means the action during certain sections feels very gamey, but it's a minor inconvenience because the stealth takedowns are grimly entertaining, the silent throwing knives are super satisfying, and then, when something does go wrong and the fighting starts in earnest, the gunplay is great.
The gunplay is so good largely because the weapons in Wolfenstein are brilliant. They're chunky and feel appropriately hefty; gunmetal can take up what feels like half the screen while you're dual-wielding, and even a solitary weapon feels substantial in-hand. There's a kinetic energy behind every pull of the trigger. Machine Games clearly loves their guns, to the extent that they've even added animations to the game that have plucky hero B.J. Blazkowicz occasionally brush dust from the top of his weapon.
There's less of an arsenal in The Old Blood, and the radial menu used to select your weapon of choice can be a bit tricky, but the combat worked in The New Order and it works again here. One thing that isn't great is the boss battles, and while there's nothing as annoying as the final boss of the last game in this expansion, there's a couple of encounters that were less than satisfying this time around.
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The story is functional stuff, and while does the job of housing the action, it'll win absolutely zero awards for originality. The voice over is solid, and there's some amusing characters to be encountered along the way, which certainly makes for a more entertaining journey than it might have been. Given the relative brevity of the campaign the storytelling is more than sufficient, even if it never surprised nor dazzled us.
It's a similar story with the visuals; the aesthetic of the first game is, to a certain extent, maintained here. There's some interesting environments to explore, and some of the stages are surprisingly large. In particular, the titular Wolfenstein Castle is really well constructed, with spooky tombs underneath and claustrophobic corridors throughout.
A solid score attack mode has been included, which significantly fleshes out the title and rubs in some much needed longevity. You can replay some of your favourite sections from the campaign, attempting them with a mixture of stealth and brute force, adding up the points as you push through while the timer counts down in the corner, urging you to take risks when before you might have played it with a degree of caution.
The first half of the game is certainly the better of the two. There's a couple of boss battles towards the end of the fourth chapter, and things shift quite significantly after that, and the stealth sections become fewer and farther between. When you're sneaking in and out of cover, using your throwing knives, and hitting unaware enemies with stealth takedowns, the game really impresses. Once the zombies turn up a lot of the nuance is lost and it becomes a more run-of-the-mill shooter. Some people will no doubt appreciate the change of pace, but we wanted more stealth and less burning zombies during the second half of the game.
Thankfully the zombie element doesn't dominate the finale, and there's still plenty of reasons to push you through to the game's final conclusion. The Old Blood boasts the same visceral combat as its predecessor, and it's a similarly enjoyable experience. However, it could also be said that there's too many similarities, and it never builds on the success of last year's reboot, it merely dresses up that game in new clothes while at the same time failing to replicate the same level of variety. If we had to pick one we'd go for the original, but it's still a fairly straightforward recommendation: if you liked The New Order, you'll enjoy this standalone expansion.
7 / 10
+ Decent combat and stealth, solid mechanics, big guns, looks great.
- Second half of the game isn't as good as the first, not as interesting or exciting as The New Order.